More prevention needed to reduce teen suicide rates
Kansas continues to make strides in providing support to reduce the number of suicides, but more work remains in order to reduce what unfortunately is the second leading cause of death among our youth, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said recently.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and Thursday, Sept. 10, was World Suicide Prevention Day. Both events aim to raise global awareness about the ways to prevent suicide, encourage those who need mental health treatment to seek help, as well as raise awareness about the importance of supporting families and others affected by suicide.
Schmidt noted that in the past year Kansas has begun to implement the recommendations of the attorney general’s Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force, which was established in 2018.
“It is critical as Kansans that we know the warning signs of suicide, that we take action when we are concerned about someone, and that mental health be treated consistent with physical health concerns,” Schmidt said.
During September and with the new reality of life with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gina Meier-Hummel, youth suicide prevention coordinator, said it was increasingly important that Kansans check in with all the young people in their lives and reach out to those who may not have social supports.
“Death by suicide can be preventable, but it’s going to take everyone — family, friends, strangers and providers — recognizing that a young person is in need,” Meier-Hummel said. “We need to reach out and support youth in crisis, as well as ensure our systems are ready to respond with adequate supports to prevent such tragedies.”
Suicide does not discriminate, and anyone may feel suicidal. Among those who are most vulnerable are those with mental illness, having a substance abuse disorder, being terminally or chronically ill or having suffered a traumatic injury or prolonged stressful situations.
Common warning signs include talking about dying or wanting to die, talking about feeling empty or hopeless, expressions of intense guilt or shame, talking about not having a reason to live and/or suddenly creating isolation, saying goodbye or giving away things.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s message in 2020 is #BeThe1To, encouraging everyone to take the responsibility to:
• Ask the tough question of someone who is suffering emotional pain.
• Be there to listen with compassion and without judgment to someone who needs help.
• Keep them safe from using anything around them that could cause them physical harm.
• Help them connect to a support structure of family, friends, coaches, clergy and co-workers.
• Follow up and check on a person you care about regularly.
Over the past year, the attorney general’s youth suicide prevention coordinator has provided technical assistance to more than 135 individuals and training to nearly 500 Kansans. This includes participation in a winter retreat with community partners, as well as youth and families impacted by suicide and through virtual participation with the Kansas Youth Community Change Conference.
Currently, the youth suicide prevention coordinator is in the early stages of developing a statewide app that can be used on a cell phone or computer to provide an additional resource for those seeking support, to fulfill a key recommendation identified by the attorney general’s Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force and mandated by the Legislature.
If you or anyone you know is in need of crisis support, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-8255. The youth suicide prevention coordinator is located in the Victim Services Division of the Office of the Attorney General and can be reached at 1-800-828-9475, or online at ag.ks.gov/victim-services.